Last month’s earthquake did more than kill hundreds and devastate a large swath of Chile. It also hurtled the entire city of Concepcion 10 feet to the west, according researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Using precise GPS measurements taken before and after the magnitude-8.8 earthquake, associate researchers Benjamin Brooks and James Foster discovered the dramatic shift. They say that the colliding tectonic plates of the Chilean subduction zone are responsible for the earthquake and the sudden westward trajectory of Concepcion.
“Before the quake, there were about 50 to 100 GPS stations throughout South America,” Brooks told AOL News. “We’re hoping to add an additional 25 to 35 more.”
Brooks is heading up the United States’ GPS response to the earthquake, which consists of sharing data with other scientists and trying to establish the most detailed picture possible of how subduction zones affect the movement of the Earth’s surface.
“On average,” Brooks said, “Concepcion creeps slowly to the east, about 30 centimeters each year.” That movement is a result of the Nazca plate crashing into and diving under the South American plate, the same geologic event that, over time, has built up the Andean mountain range.
But the Feb. 27 earthquake resulted in the top plate bucking back in the other direction, Brooks said.
“Aside from the the devastation and the tragedy being experienced by the people of Chile, this quake will probably become the most studied in history,” Brooks said.
Brooks and Foster say that while Concepcion was the location that experience the greatest movement as it was so close to the epicenter of the earthquake, the Earth shifted its GPS coordinates in several other spots, too. Santiago, the nation’s capital, was found to have moved 11 inches to the west-southwest.
NASA scientists also say that the earthquake in Chile shortened the length of an Earth day